While the demand for nurses has been increasing across the nation and is expected to continue for some time, many nursing school applicants have been placed on waiting lists because of a shortage of qualified faculty at colleges and universities. At many schools in California, for example, hundreds of students apply for a few dozen spots at some schools, where the competition is tight and only the top candidates are accepted.
Recent Brookhaven College nursing school graduate Perla Sanchez was fortunate that she applied and was accepted immediately. The 30-year-old, who started at Brookhaven in fall 2014 and graduated in December 2015, said she had good grades and all the prerequisites. Having a bachelor’s degree in biology helped as well. “I was very tenacious about it. Nursing was something that I really wanted, and I wanted to help people because it fulfills me. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives,” she said.
The scarcity of faculty has hit many institutions, and the Dallas County Community College District’s nursing programs are no exception. DCCCD’s nursing programs eliminated waiting lists several years ago, and only the top applicants are accepted at Brookhaven, El Centro and Mountain View colleges.
“We could crank out more nurses, but we need more faculty,” said Dr. Juanita Flint, executive dean of health and human services at Brookhaven College. She added that filling faculty positions is difficult, but there are ways to bring instructors to teach at her school. “Pay always drives hiring. DCCCD has made good strides with stipends and with the ways we structure classes. We like to hire nurse practitioners and let them have days to practice. They get their wages for teaching, plus a stipend, and they also can teach extra courses. In addition, they can work for a couple of months in the summer,” Flint added.
The lack of nursing faculty has had a cascading effect on the supply of nurses. While registered nursing is one of the fastest-growing occupations, nursing schools have not been able to keep up with demand for students who want to enter the field.
According to a report from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, nursing schools rejected almost 69,000 qualified applicants from four-year nursing institutions in 2014 because of a shortage of faculty, among other reasons. The report revealed a national vacancy rate of 6.9 percent for nursing faculty, or about 1,200 positions, in October 2014.
Figures from community colleges are similar. The National League for Nursing reported in 2012 that “associate degree in nursing programs rejected 45 percent of qualified applications.” The NLN cites challenges in “attracting and retaining qualified nurse faculty.”
The faculty shortage comes at a critical time. By 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of registered nurses is expected to grow nationally by 19.4 percent to more than 32 million, and job openings for RNs will be more than a million.
Almost 28,000 nurses already work in Dallas County, but at least 4,000 more are needed immediately, according to recent figures from Economic Modeling Specialists International. That number is only going to increase. The AACN report revealed that a significant number of nurses are nearing retirement, and the aging population will increase demand for more nurses.
Flint said part of the problem is the bottleneck created by hospitals that require nurses to have bachelor’s degrees. “We train our nurses to work in hospitals the same way four-year universities do. But when push comes to shove, if you’re in a bed in a hospital and you’re hurting, you don’t care whether the nurse has a B.S. or an associate degree. You just want a nurse,” Flint said.
In addition to the nursing faculty shortage, Flint added that Dallas-area hospitals have limited the number of clinical spots for associate-degree nursing students. “In order to teach pediatrics, we are forced to use day care centers and do simulation in the labs. Between the faculty shortages and clinical availability, nursing programs cannot grow like they need to in order to supply adequate nurses for the state of Texas,” she said.
Sanchez said she never felt the shortage of faculty, even though professors had mentioned it. “It never impacted me during my time at Brookhaven,” she added.
Flint said that Brookhaven currently is fully staffed, but the story is different at El Centro College, which runs DCCCD’s largest nursing program.
Joan Becker, dean of nursing and ADN faculty, said her program is short five faculty members. El Centro receives more than 400 applications from students for 120 spots, said Becker. “We accept applications every semester, and if we don’t have any seats available by the second week of class, we shred all applications and start from scratch the next semester,” she added.
Cherlyn Shultz-Ruth, interim dean of nursing at Mountain View College, which has a smaller nursing program than Brookhaven and El Centro’s, said she did not have too much difficulty finding qualified faculty applicants for the program’s two vacancies. “Pay is the main reason some schools have a hard time finding nursing instructors, but we received several applications and will begin interviewing in the next couple of weeks,” Shultz-Ruth said.
“Nurses are used to a certain pay per year. They’re not going to make as much teaching, even with free summers and holidays; across the board, they made more money as nurses,” Shultz-Ruth said. “But nursing is hard on them. They get tired working on their feet for 12-hour shifts with heavy patient loads.”
Mountain View takes in 40 new nursing students each fall. The college receives 60 to 100 applications and uses a point system to evaluate applicants. The faculty also interviews prospective students. “If they’re not qualified, we don’t accept them. We don’t have a waiting list—we’re not at that point,” Shultz-Ruth said. “Our goal is to expand and eventually take more students.”
The nursing shortage has created good job prospects for nursing graduates. El Centro’s nursing program graduates enjoy a 90 to 95 percent placement ratio, and many of those jobs are at local hospitals, according to Becker.
Sanchez, for example, had two job offers when she graduated, including one for a position at Parkland Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit, which she accepted. She said, “Normally, it is very difficult for a nursing school graduate to get an ICU position straight out of college.”
Flint said nurses with associate degrees get the same clinical training as nurses with bachelor’s degrees. “They all insert IVs the same way, take blood pressure the same way, and they all take the same exam,” she said, but she tells all of her students to get a bachelor’s degree after they finish at Brookhaven. “The quicker the better, because they’ll have more opportunities for growth,” she added.
Sanchez already has been accepted into the nursing program at the University of Texas at Arlington because DCCCD nursing schools have articulation agreements with many Texas universities, including UTA. Sanchez added that she’s looking forward to getting a master’s degree and maybe even a doctorate in nursing anesthesiology.
For more information about the nursing programs offered by DCCCD, please visit http://DCCCD.edu/nursing. To contact Dr. Juanita Flint, please email her at email@example.com; to contact Joan Becker, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; to contact Cherlyn Shultz-Ruth, please send email to email@example.com.